I have been researching a 10-12 day tour to Italy for the fall of 2008. My question is this: Rick Steves tours are about $1000 more than the other company(Collete) I am looking at. Can any one tell me why this is...what does Rick's tours have over the other company that he can charge this much more??? Thanks, Pat
I'm not sure about the company you are looking at but I compared total costs with a friend who did one with Globus and by the time she had paid for all the optionals (a lot of sightseeing costs that are included with a RS tour are added on as optionals) and tips to tour guides and driver the price was almost the same. She had 40+ people on the tour with her (28 on RS tour) and some of the hotels she stayed at were far away from the city so they felt they had to do the optionals. She did a Best of Italy and seeing David in Florence was not offered as part of the tour or as an optional. My advice would be to compare what you see tour to tour and then check how much extra the optionals are and then check on whether or not you are expected to tip. You do not need to tip on an RS tour. Another thing that you will learn on an RS tour is how to use public transportation which is a big help if you ever go back on your own.
I've never taken a Collete tour, but I suspect there are several reasons for Rick's tours being priced somewhat higher. It would be necessary to analyze and compare all of the features provided by each tour. Here are a few possibilities that MIGHT account for some of the cost differences:
Rick's tours focus on small groups (no more than 28 people) as opposed to some of the others that allow 50-60 people. With a larger group, it would seem logical that the "cost per person" would be lower.
Some of the tour companies (I don't know if this applies to Collete?) seem to pay their Guides a lower wage, and this is "enhanced" by funneling the group through selected souvenir shops, where the Guide receives a 15% bonus of whatever the group buys.
Rick's tours seem to include a lot - all breakfasts and about half the lunches and dinners, admissions to all sites the group visits, transportation, lodgings, etc. (in addition to the Guide books, Money Belt, etc.).
(this text limit is a DARN nuisance!)
Rick's tours don't include air fare, however I understand the reason for this. Collete appears to have two rate structures for their tours, so they offer the option of including air fare. I imagine it would be enormously complicated to calculate air fares for tour members coming from all over North America!
Again on the topic of wages for the Guides, Rick's Guides and Driver's are paid well, so no gratuities are required. I'm not sure if this is true with the other tour companies?
I know from talking to people that have taken other tours, that some of these are very rushed, sometimes stopping for only one day in many of the spots. Luggage must be outside the Hotel room door by 06:00 each morning! these seem more like an "assembly line" tour. Rick's tours normally spend at least two nights in each stop, so the pace is a bit more relaxing, and travellers get a bit more time to explore each location.
Running out of room again...
In conclusion (finally!), my thoughts are based on having talked to several people that have taken "other" Tours and my experiences with RS Tours (so far).
I'm embarking on another RS tour in a few weeks (along with some self-guided travel), and I can't imagine travelling with any other tour group.
Good luck with your decision and happy travels!!!
Some tours use big hotels outside the cities being visited. RS tours stay at centrally located, "nice" hotels with easy access to public transit, taxis, etc. When you have a free afternoon or evening, you can take off on your own without having to make a big trek to where the action is. RS guides will help you organize your free time with info regarding restaurants, transportation, etc.
My MIL went on a tour ( Globus I think) it was exhausting, plus she was constantly paying for optionals, that didn't seem that optional. She tipped the tour guide 100 bucks and the driver 50.
She said alot of the stops were at stores,, stores the tourguide recommended as good value. Seems he gets a kickback( no he never said that) .
Yes it was also a large group,, about 45-50 she said,, so it was harder to get a word in with the tour guide if you wanted advice.
She did enjoy trip, but found the moving almost every night exhausting, some very early mornings too!
As a former tour director with a company similar to Collette, perhaps I can weigh in with some answers.
Collette is a very good company with an excellent reputation.
But let's look at both tours and compare. A Collette Tour and a RS Tour are two different animals.
An RS tour is a very independent tour with some sightseeing included and some meals. You are limited on how much baggage you can take and get no help with it.
A Colette tour will allow you to take one bag of any size and you will have bellman service with that bag to and from your room in each hotel.
Because of the size of the company, Collette can make better deals for hotels becaue they can promise more room nights. These hotels for the most part will be American style hotels.
More excursions are optional on the Colette tour. Most tour companies want tohave a lover initial selling point and then add extras later. In reality, if you take a budget tour with lots of optionals or a more expensive tour
where the optionals are included, you'll pay about the same once you pay for the optionals.
Most tours let you decide whether or not to tip the tour director and driver. This is included in your RS tour price.
All shopping stops and all optionals are approved by the tour company and not at the discretion of the tour director.
Tour directors for most tours are paid very little and have to earn extra money from gratuities and from commissions from optionals and shopping.
I could go on and on with differences but here is the real thing you have to consider. What kind of tour do you want? Do you want a tour where everything is done for you and all you have to do is sit back and relax, or do you want a tour where you can do what you want but your transportation and hotels are included.
Don't worry so much about whether or not the tour director is makng a commission here or there, a good tour director wants you to have a good time.
One last thing...no matter what tour company you go for....if they say "it's included," read it as: "You're paying for it." (That includes big bus tours and RS tours.)
If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask.
I've not been on a Collette tour, but I've been on two RS tours and will be on another in June. A few reason I think they are more expensive:
1) The hotels are centrally located and typically small European style. But, this does not mean they are less expensive. The hotels we stayed in in London and Paris were still pricey- I'd say on his $$$ list, not the $ list. Basically, they are not "budget". (although he probably gets a discount, not rack rate)
2) The quality of the tour guides is not just good- it's outstanding. When you can come home an see your tour guide on the history channel as a subject matter expert, I think that's pretty high quality.
3) Someone already mentioned it, but ETBD pays its guides well. Since they are well paid, they don't need to send you to stores where they can get kickbacks.
4) The meals that are included are at nice restaurants with good quality food, or, picnics with good quality food.
Just some thoughts.
RS tours: you don't ride by and take snapshots of the Louvre...you go inside and tour...you don't drive by the Colosseum, you go inside, with a fabulous Roman guide...you don't ooh and aah as you pass by and "see" Notre Dame, you go inside...RS tours are inclusive, unlike other tours with many optional tours that add to the cost...all breakfasts and more than half the other meals...and they are GOOD meals with fabulously fun people...all RS tours are small groups...half the seats on the bus are EMPTY and it's wonderful! Often we would see another tour bus that was PACKED, and these folks had to follow around behind a guide holding a big flag so he/she could be seen by everyone...RS tours don't stop at shopping tourist traps and waste precious hours...RS tour folks travel light and fast and stay in places right in the middle of things, not outside the cities...you are able to leave the hotel room and see the sights...I could go on and on...these tours are super & the guides are fabulous!
Let me add something to this.....99% of the people on this board would not be happy on a big bus tour. They are designed for people who don't want to do much research, who want to be told what they are seeing, who want to pack heavy and have their bags taken care of, and basically want to be pampered.
To make it sound like all non-RS tours never take you inside the major sights, or only stay in hotels miles out of town, or spend most of their time in shopping tourist traps is kind of unfair. (RS mentions these things but he is also in competition with big bus tours and isn't going to make them sound good.)
There are many non-RS tours who provide local guides in every city, arrange private tours in major monuments, stay in city center hotels, help passengers who want to spend their free time seeing specific sights, and even dine in some very fine restaurants. And yes, there are the others that charge practiclaly nothing and treat you like cattle. (Con't)
We all travel differently and want different things. I've met people who believe the only way to vacation is to take a cruise. Some prefer to rent a beach house in the same location year and year and would see European travel as too much work.
When I started touring, I worked for a company that took Americans on tours in the U.S. I couldn't understand why people needed to take a tour in their own country, But I soon realized they wanted to do everything for them. In my early days, I rarely stopped to allow people to shop. I was almost lynched. People wanted to buy souvenirs--and tacky ones at that.
My first trip to Europe--back in the stone age-was on a big bus tour. I quickly realized that I could have traveled just as easily on my own. Most of my fellow passengers let it be known that this would be their only trip to Europe and wanted to see as much as possible. So a busy big bus tour was perfect for them.
For those who want to get in depth, then you need to find a more
specialized tour group. RS is one. But it has its limitations. If you prefer better accomodations and more services, you can get the same quality tour, with excellent guides, at other companies.( Those tours, usually, have an older group of passengers. )
Everyone travels differently and I've learned over the years to respect people's needs when it comes to travel.
Sort of like some of us need to do when it comes to the question of wheels vs non-wheels, getting foreign currency before leaving or on arrival, and so on. Respect others wants and needs even if they are different from your own.
Reading some of the other comments has highlighted a few things I forgot to mention about RS tours.
In addition to admissions at local attractions, RS tours include some EXCEPTIONAL local Guides, who have incredibly detailed knowledge of their areas. Using the Ireland tour as an example, ALL the local Guides were fantastic, but those in Dingle and London/Derry were most memorable! I'm sure these Guides are well paid also, as they're not volunteering their time, so that has to be factored into the cost as well.
My other comment is the aspect of "shopping" that's been discussed. I chuckled a bit when reading the comments, as I think buying souvenirs (tacky or otherwise) must be a common thread with ALL tours. Most of the guys on my last tour would often comment about the "shopping" when we arrived in a new town, as all the ladies immediately made a "beeline" for the nearest stores! It was somewhat a source of amusement during the trip!
Pat, good luck with your tour decision!
Thanks to all who responded. It was very helpful. I've done a little more research and we may extend our tour and do Venice on our own. Bon Voyage to all!!
RS tour members do plenty of shopping and souvenir buying. They just aren't carried by the tour bus to a shop and encouraged to buy, buy, buy. After all, there is plenty of free time to escape the group and sneak off to shop. We all do it. One slight exception was that our RS guide in Venice told us where to go for a glass-making exhibit, if we were interested. On a tour by a different company in Ireland, we were taken to a shop at least once a day and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience. So, there you go...
As Frank and others have said, choosing a tour company is a matter of YOUR personal travel style. I wanted to go to Rome on my own terms as much as possible, but was a little nervous about figuring everything out on my own for the first time (and my mother was worried!) so a RS tour, which deliberately builds in flexibility and free time was the way to go. My tour guide told us that the RS philosophy was to "equip you to come back and do it on your own" which is exactly what I'm doing.
As for the price differences, it probably has to do with what other people have suggested: hotel quality/location, group size (I could not find the average group size of a Collette tour. There were 24 people, counting me, on the RS tour), included/optional activities, tips, guide quality. We had three guides: one for the Vatican/St. Peters, one for the Colosseum/Forum/Pantheon/Borghese, and our tour leader who organized everything and shared tidbits about Italian history/culture.